Saturday, June 2, 2012

Career Tips from 'Dancing With The Stars'

You may be ‘dancing as fast as you can’ but, unless you are prepared to learn how businesses in your industry work, from an operational standpoint, you will never be taken seriously, considered for promotion, or ultimately win the shiny trophy for which you yearn.

Remaining business savvy and competitive requires the following:
  • Understanding that those who resist getting knowledgeable about the very business they are in or want to help guide are destined to suffer ‘elimination’ via ‘pink slip’
  • Knowing how the business operates, including its key performance indicators, is critical to success
  • You will need to get into the rhythm of practicing your basic skills until they become rote before you will be able to do anything remotely significant at the ‘advanced level’
Here are eight ways you can build your business expertise:

1.         Get in the Trenches!
If your company has manufacturing plants, get out on the floor with the folks on the front line who make the product. Talk to them about their issues.   The best way of getting a pulse beat on the business is to get out and walk the plant floor on regular basis.  If you can’t walk the floor, sit and chat with front-line workers on your coffee or lunch break.

2.         Know the Customers/Target Market!
Customers are the lifeblood of any organization. If are employed and can get some of the sales reps at the company to let you go on sales calls with them to learn the needs of the customers and consumers of your business, you will gain valuable insights into issues and concerns from the customer perspective.  

Alternatively, if you are able to set aside a few hours on a regular basis and watch how your customer service reps work with irate customer calls, you will also gain from the experience

Whenever possible, set up routine meetings with your colleagues in other departments e.g. Purchasing, Engineering, Marketing, R&D on their turf (not yours), or people who do not work at your company but do work in a similar industry, to learn about the challenges they face in their area of the organization.  Make this one of your weekly priorities.

3.         Start a Regular Reading Program on Your Business! 
Understand the lifeblood of the organization and do the following:
  • Become familiar with the strategic business plans for your unit.
  • Read your company’s annual report.
  • Read the same industry trade publications or investor reports that your business leaders read.
  • Beef up your understanding of balance sheets and P&L statements. For this, read: “How To Read A Financial Report” published by Merrill Lynch and download it online.
4.         Make Friends with Finance!
Your company may or may not have a dedicated CFO and you certainly don’t want to bug the crap out of the person who is in charge of the company’s finances, but at the very minimum, you do want to find someone in the organization who helps pull the numbers that show how the company is performing.  
  • Build a relationship with this person
  • Schedule an informal lunch and learn session with him or her
  • Get their coaching on how your business makes money
  • Offer to return the favour by becoming a resource to them in your area of expertise
5.         Bond with Investor Relations!
If you are in a publicly traded company, the folks in the Investor Relations (IR) group are the key story tellers who have to explain to shareholders everything from the latest SEC filing to the quarterly earnings or latest product launches.
When they are not scrambling to meet a disclosure deadline, schedule a brown bag lunch with one of them from time to time to understand the big picture. It’s time well spent.

6.         Get on Relevant Distribution Lists!
Many Finance, IR, Strategy or Competitive Intelligence functions in companies have distribution lists for financial updates, analyst reports, competitor news and legislative and regulatory issues.
Knowledge is power.  If the data is good enough for your business and industry leaders, it is good enough for you.

7.         Get Wired!
For up-to-the-minute insights on your business, subscribe to RSS feeds, Google alerts on what’s being written online and in social media about your company, its competitors and your industry.
This puts you ‘in the know’ as fast as any executive in your company.

8.         Tune in to Earnings Calls!
If you’re in a publicly traded company, listen to the quarterly earnings call with the analysts.  Especially the Q&A segment at the end of the call.  If you don’t get the opportunity to listen in on the call, at least read the transcripts. It’s a good way to get a concise summary of the strategy story that your company is telling and even better insights on what investors – and your business leaders — are excited and worried about.

9.         Get out and meet industry leaders
Take some do some face-to-face networking at industry related events.  Even though these events are often touted as informal ‘getting to know you’ gatherings, sometimes these familiar faces will share information with you that has yet to make it into any formal company reports.  

To conclude…
It is tantamount to career suicide to think that staying in your office or focusing on your work alone will boost the impact you have on or in your organization.

The fastest way to knock the socks off your current or 'would be' superiors is to impress them with your knowledge of the business as a whole.  Failing to do this will forever relegate you to the back of the bus and weaken your job security.

Copyright © 2012, Career Matters. All Rights Reserved. Permission to Reprint: This article may be reprinted, provided it appears in its entirety with the following attribution: Copyright © 2012 Career Matters. Reprinted by permission of the author, Mary Salvino. “Career Matters” is a blog authored by Mary Salvino, Senior Consultant for SMART Career that is dedicated to those who are seeking advice on managing their career and future job opportunities. We welcome readers to share their experiences, post their comments or ask questions about career related matters. This blog is also dedicated to those who stand a little taller each time they picked themselves up after failing and those who gained the wisdom and humility from those experiences to help others do the same. For any questions or comments that are better addressed privately, please feel free to e-mail Mary directly at